Beacons of Badassery is an interview series shining light on strong women.
After spending most of my life trying to prove that I’m strong enough to be one of the guys, I’ve realized that instead of trying so hard to fit a certain expectation, we should be redefining what it actually means to be strong.
These women are doing just that.
Beacon of Badassery: Katie Crafts
On the drive to the airport after a recent climbing trip down south, my brother told me to pick out a Dirtbag Diaries podcast episode to listen to. As I scrolled through, the title “Start Saying Yes” intrigued me. When I saw the mention of Antartica in the description, I immediately pressed play. (Because penguins!)
After listening to Katie’s story about how she realized that she could no longer accept a life that was “fine” and decided to become the superwoman version of herself that she wanted to be, I had to get in touch with her to find out more about her commitment to change and the journey she has been on since.
A trip to Antarctica is what led you to redesign your life. I’m a huge fan of cold weather (and penguins!), and I went to Canada to celebrate my 30th birthday, which had cold weather (but no penguins!), but I have always dreamed of visiting Antarctica. Why did you decide to take that original trip?
I was eager to start my 30s doing something new and fresh that would be a force for radically bettering my life, and would redirect the inertia of my home-owning, career-focused 20s. After buying my home right out of college and working in the nonprofit sector for several years, I needed to reprioritize and dig myself out of some debts. I took a job headhunting for online advertising companies, and after several years with them I had no debts and a good financial cushion.
That’s how, at 29, I found myself debating the merits of buying a van and becoming a renegade, or heading to Antarctica to satiate a curiosity. I was curious about ice – what would an entirely glaciated coastline look like? What’s the difference between sea ice and land ice? What’s a calving glacier sound like?
Before I booked that trip, I viewed the poles as somebody else’s part of the planet. I didn’t feel ownership over them, and didn’t feel like it was my business to go there –rather, that I should leave those areas to the modern day Shackletons. That changed as I realized that these are actually accessible parts of the planet. The yous and the mes can go there!
I slowly started to wrap my head around the fact that chasing my curiosity was within my ability, and this seemed like the right time of my life to check it out. So I did! The rest is history… ☺
You considered the crew members to be “incredibly impressive humans” who made you want to be the “superwoman equivalent” of yourself. Why was developing your outdoor skill set such a driving force for you?
In my super outdoorsy bubble of Oregon, I never felt like I was truly helpful, knowledgeable, nor impactful when I was doing outdoorsy things with my outdoorsy friends. Rather, I was reliant on their knowledge and competencies.
This contrasted with the rest of my personal life, where I prided myself in living resourcefully and independently, sometimes to a stoic fault. For the most part, I had built my life on my own – including homeownership and a “successful” career. Yet as soon as I tried to keep up with friends on mountains and rivers, I felt more dependent on those friends than I cared to admit. I wanted to bridge the gap and become a well-rounded, competent human.
I’m not sure why I didn’t see those skills as being attainable before my trip to Antarctica, but for whatever reason the people who I met on that trip were the catalyst for introducing my then-self to my future-self. For whatever reason, I reconciled that these hard skills were within my reach and I decidedly got after it!
By chasing those outdoor skills, I’ve since learned a lot more than “just” those hard skills. Situational awareness, the power of perseverance, self-awareness, … you can learn a lot outside, beyond just how to be outside.
Do you think being female influenced your desire to be seen as capable, because women are often stereotypically viewed as less able to do physical jobs in the outdoors? (I’ve personally spent most of my career in the very male-dominated field of sports television production, and I know proving myself to be as capable as one of the guys has definitely motivated me.)
I wanted to be capable because I wanted to be capable. I wanted to be as self-reliant on the mountains as I had learned to be in my personal life. Being a woman was never a thought as I went about this. There were many moments of recognition that I was the only woman in the room (specifically in training classes for the maritime industry). However, I was fortunate to have a couple amazing female role models and mentors who took me under their wings and they certainly helped pave the way.
Do you work with many other female guides? Do you feel like a trailblazer or a role model – and is that important to you?
My personal experience as a female in the polar guiding world has been probably very counter to what you might guess. In terms of perceived competence, I have always been given the benefit of the doubt in terms of people believing in me and my skills far before I did, gender aside. I felt like respect was given as soon as it was merited.
In our worlds, my colleagues and I rely on each other not just for fun and happiness when we’re away from home for weeks and months at a time, but sometimes our lives or the lives of others depend on us. Not to mention that we all worked out asses off to get there, and we work extremely hard every day together.
That kind of work and environment forges a deeply respectful team with no room for gender-based ego. It’s been remarkably refreshing and empowering, and I’m constantly grateful for the caliber of humanity I see in this work environment.
I do work with many females who are ridiculously intelligent, hardworking, humble, high integrity, skilled, and fun! These women defy gender stereotypes every day in every way, without giving it a second thought. It’s just how they live. They are my role models and I have the utmost respect for them. It is important to me to live with integrity and without regret; I try not to think about how people see me.
You fully committed to redesigning your life and started saying yes to everything, from being ready and willing to move to Idaho if Antarctica didn’t work out, learning to ski, taking wilderness courses, and going on a Tinder date river-rafting in the Grand Canyon. Did you just decide to start being the person you wanted to be?
Yup! At the time I didn’t have a vision, but eagerly embarked on a commitment to better myself. So I put on my “beginner’s mindset” hat and gave myself to any opportunity that presented itself to that cause. It was fun to re-approach the world – it’s science, recreation, dating norms (!), etc. – with a wide open mind and eagerness to learn. After some hits and misses of saying yes to everything (including a lot of comedically mediocre dates), I started to refine what was important to me and where I wanted to focus my learning, and targeted my energy there.
What is your definition of strong? How has it changed, especially since your first trip to Antartica?
Since fighting my way into the polar industry, and working harder than ever before at work and in between seasons, I’ve learned the power of mental strength – grit. Mental fortitude and perseverance has been everything for me. We have long days in these seasons and the physical and mental demands can be high. I’ve learned mental fortitude from skiing up mountains, hiking up hills, reading hundreds of rejection emails (or even worse, silence), and otherwise building my resilience.
It’s easy to do 80% of a workout, but the people who make it to the top consistently push to 100% and beyond. Physical strength can get me through that first 80%, but grit gets me the last 20. In workouts, in mountains, and in life. ☺
Finally, how cool is it to see penguins up close?!
Super cool! It’s hard to get the full effect without the “sweet scent of Antarctica,” aka the penguin poo wafting off the southernmost continent, but turn on sound and check out this video of 200,000 King Penguins.
And the next one of seabirds being awkward on land. They’re kind of my spirit animal in that sense 😉
Huge thanks to Katie for sharing her experiences – and penguin videos!! 😀
You can find out more about Katie’s adventures at katiecrafts.wordpress.com!